Entry into the USA: I-20 form and F-1 Visa

Often when you enter a foreign country, you need an entry permit or "visa." Most countries offer different types of visas. GradUS works with non-immigrant students entering the USA to study full-time; as one of those students, you would require an F-1 Visa. Once you are granted admission for full-time study by a U.S. institution, the institution will send you a letter of admission. This letter will also contain an application for an F-1 visa. This application is called an I-20 document.

Institutions will require the first few pages of your passport in order to verify your citizenship, date of birth, contact address, etc. Institutions will use your name as it appears on the passport, therefore you should always double-check that your name is correctly typed on your I-20 and that your first and last names are not interchanged.

After receiving an I-20 form, you will need to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee. You must pay this fee before you can schedule an appointment with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate where you will then apply for a visa.

Entry into the United States

Institutions will give you a deadline for entering the United States on your I-20. You must be in the United States by that date. However, visas are not granted earlier than 120 days before that date, so students should plan accordingly.

Visa interviewers have the sole authority to make decisions regarding your visa and they need to be convinced that:

1

You have the appropriate academic profile. They will look at your overall rank in your graduation class, your number of backlogs (the number of times you failed a test), your relevant standardized test scores, and English language competency score (TOEFL, IELTS, or any other test accepted by your institution).

2

You have credible financial support to provide for your studies and expenses during your stay in the U.S. (this includes the cost of the first year at your institution, including tuition, fees, books, medical insurance, boarding, travel, and other miscellaneous items). You will need proof you have the financial means of supporting yourself, such as a letter from a bank manager that shows the bank balance of the applicant, and/or parents, or some other sponsor. The documents you provide should also show that the account has been in good standing for a reasonable length of time.

3

You will return to your country after completing the planned degree, which can be done by presenting the interviewer with a definitive career plan after your return -- for example, a student could explain how he or she plans to return to help run a family business. The assurance of your intent to return to your home country must be convincing.

There will be a few "why" questions, such as:

  • Why did you select the United States for your additional education?
  • Why did you choose this particular institution?

We recommend that your answers be specific, honest, and convincing. You want to avoid any confusion and/or contradiction in your answers. You should also remember that if you select GradUS to help match you to one of our University Partners, we will prepare you to get through every step of the visa process.

NOTE on the filling out the DS 160 form: See that you provide correct details on the DS 160 form the first time. After submitting the DS 160 form we will get a confirmation. If the DS 160 form is edited after it is submitted, a new confirmation will be issued with a new CEAC code. Thus, editing a submitted form is not encouraged.

Visa Preparation Checklist

Preparation/Steps

  • Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee before the visa interview. Generally, three payment options are offered: by credit card, by check in the mail, or by Western Union. If you are able, we recommend payment by credit card because the receipt is available immediately.
  • Complete the DS-160 Visa Application
    (http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_4230.html)
    • DS forms can be saved up to 7 days without booking a visa date.
    • Be sure the form is filled out accurately or you will need a new confirmation and CEAC code.
  • Pay the visa application fee/MRV fee (machine readable visa). Follow the instructions given by the U.S. consulate in the city where you apply for the visa. Find U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions. Each consulate website also links to the Visa Application Form (DS-160).
  • Schedule the visa appointment. See the U.S. consulate post instructions for making an appointment. You will need the DS-160 bar code number, the MRV receipt, passport number, and the SEVIS number to make an appointment. You can check wait times on the U.S. visa webpage.
    • After booking the date you can cancel the visa appointment ONLY ONCE.
    • GradUS recommends using Internet Explorer for booking the visa online and not Mozilla Firefox/Google Chrome/any other browser.
  • Build financial summary statement (CA statement).
  • Prepare for the visa interview.
  • Go to the visa appointment with your DS-160 bar code receipt, the MRV receipt, the SEVIS fee receipt, the original I-20 or DS-2019, passport, financial guarantee, photos, and any other information the U.S. consulate website indicates.

Financial Preparation

  • 4 financial considerations (income, savings, properties and loans).
  • The income of your father/mother/other sponsor is the most crucial factor in judging a student's financial background.
  • Providing evidence of longstanding savings in multiple sources is an advantage.
  • If you've also obtained an education loan, that will help your financial profile.

Visa Factors/Advisement

  • Carry all original (academic and financial) documents to the consulate.
  • Be at the consulate for your scheduled interview on time; get the security clearance.
  • VFS counter: DS forms, I-20, mark sheets will be kept in VFS folder.
  • Walk to the main area and give your fingerprints.
  • Stand in line for your turn for a visa (can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours).

Visa Q&A

  • Typically 3 or 4 questions on your university, program, sponsor, and future plans.
  • There may be additional questions based on your profile and answers to the first questions.
  • Students need to sell their strengths.
  • Accept your weaknesses and stress your ability to overcome them.

Interview Guidelines

  • Answer questions specifically. Avoid being vague. Have simple answers. Don't ramble.
  • If the visa officer asks for more information on a particular question, then elaborate on your original answer.
  • Show you know all about your institution and program.
  • Learn the scope and application of your chosen field.
  • Highlight your strengths/skills/positives.
  • Know the numbers of your financial summary (income, savings and property).
  • Show confidence. Speak clearly. Don't mumble or speak softly.
  • Every question is a chance to prove yourself.
Contact Us

TO LEARN MORE

To see the complete and official list of requirements for the visa process you can visit the US government sites www.usembassy.gov and www.studyinthestates.dhs.gov.

Another helpful organization is EducationUSA, www.educationusa.info. EducationUSA has a massive network of hundreds of advising centers for international students that hope to study in the United States. It's supported by the U.S. State Department and usually maintains an office in any large city with a U.S. consulate. In India, these cities are Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Satellite offices also exist in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Manipal.

ENROLL IN ACCREDITED INSTITUTIONS ONLY

In the US there is no federal (central) governmental body that accredits institutions. There are, however, regional nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) formed collectively by institutions in a region. The institutions then voluntarily submit to reviews by these NGOs who then accredit them. Thus, there are institutions that offer degrees but are not officially accredited. The degrees offered by them may not be recognized universally and GradUS recommends that you avoid such institutions.

An institution may be approved by the US Government Student & Exchange Visitor Programs (SEVIS), and may also be licensed by a state government. However, these approvals alone are not enough to accredit a school. It is important to note that while some institutions are licensed by SEVIS, they still may not have the universally accepted designation of accreditation.

To check whether an institution is accredited, visit the US Department of Education website (http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/). GradUS only works with institutions that are accredited and licensed by SEVIS to enroll international students.